Monday, November 14, 2005

#6 - Admitting you (don't) have a problem

Ok, so last time we talked about being properly bankrolled and ready to take any hits to your roll as you venture into playing poker seriously, or for leisure for that matter. This time I'd like to discuss the perception of poker as gambling.

No doubt if you've read any literature on poker or have taken the time to speak with someone who regularly plays the game and wins, they'll lay the claim that poker is a game of skill first and foremost, with luck playing a certain part at each juncture. Many steadfastly hold to the motto that poker is not gambling. To put it bluntly, they're wrong, and that type of thinking can be deterimental to your game.

Make no mistake about it, if you aren't able to calculate the odds, read your opponents likely holdings, their style of play, their state of mind, your own table image, and other such factors that go into every decision you make at the table, you will not be a long-term winner at poker. No one has that much luck hitting them in the face. Not Doyle Brunson, not Bill Gates, and no, not even Fabio. Skill is what you need to consistently make the best decisions possible. What you must keep in mind however, is that they are only decisions. Once you've made them, luck plays the final and deciding role every single time.

Consider an analogus situation in which you invest in the stock market. You can do all the research possibly on any company, determine that it has a big profit margin, good prospectus, low P/E ratio, and is generally undervalued and a great investment. You do the research, using all your skills to make the most informed and best decisions, and decide to take the plunge and invest big time. You get WorldCom in 2002, Microsoft before the anti-trust lawsuits, Krispy Kreme before the Atkins diet, and United Airlines before 9/11. Or maybe you just got around to buying shares of Google last night. In the real world, you are not able to look into a crystal ball and see into the future. Unexpected things happen all the time that can ruin you in an instant. Luck (and oftentimes the absense of what we term "bad-luck") plays a huge role in your investment. What you do is play the odds, play them repeatedly, and rely on the laws of statistical (im)probability to gain a return or profit.

People often complain of their "bad-beats" or the unbelievable suck-out that jackass just pulled when he cracked your straight with a backdoor flush for the third time in a row. The fact is, you are gambling. And there is absolutely nothing to prevent you from losing, over and over and over again. Sure, you can lament that it's a real bad run of statistical improbablilty and your opponent is on one of those rushes that give people the idea they can catch bullets with their teeth and achieve cold fusion. Just don't go feeling sorry for yourself. So you say your pleases and thank yous, eat your vegetables and respect your elders. Just remember one thing; the cards don't owe you a damn thing. God doesn't hate you (hopefully). Karma isn't biting you in the ass (hopefully). You are gambling, pure and simple. All the book-reading and hand-dissecting and hours upon hours spent honing your skills give you one thing: an edge on your opponent in making decisions. After that, it's a roll of the dice on how the cards come up.

Consider how many times Brunson and Amarillo Slim went broke playing No-Limit in back rooms and dark alleys, from either an unlucky turn of a card or the untimely appearance of the law. Daniel Negreanu blow his entire bankroll the first five times he came to Las Vegas. They used to call Men Nguyen the "Money Machine" for a reason. And Gus Hansen is hiding out for a reason. They're gamblors, and sometimes you lose when you gamble. That's one of the most frustrating, hair-splitting, sudden cardiac arrest-inducing parts of playing poker and expecting to make money from it.

It's also what makes it fun.

On Thursday - Keep your heart in it, keep your head in it


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